Unpretzel Blog

Here’s the place to hang out to read some articles about Python being used to solve research problems. If you like what you read, be sure to sign up for the magazine.

Alteryx delivers fresh data (Why two features make updating data a snap)


I love to cook pizza. But some nights, I’m too tired, too stressed, or just don’t have the time. But the kids still want pizza. Luckily, fresh pizza delivered to our door is just a phone call away.

Data is the same way. When I get a data set, it’s fun to dig into it and look it over, analyze it, visualize it, and do everything else with it. And I used to do all that with graphs, SQL, and statistics.

The problem comes when the data is updated

Manual processes to prepare and analyze data works great the first time. But then the data invariably gets updated. …

The Bean Counter Strategy: How taking an accounting course will boost your data scientist skills

Cartoon of Jake carrying a very large quarter and his small piggy bank freaking out at the idea of fitting it inside by Philip Riggs.

Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, California, started off in humble origins. It was planned simply to house a lighthouse. 

But it’s isolation made “The Rock” perfect to be set apart as a prison with no easy escape. First, it was used for military prisoners, but in 1933 it changed to being the best place to hold notorious bank robbers and murderers who caused trouble at other prisons.

That isolation and housing of the most notorious of criminals has given Alcatraz a certain mystique. 

Like Alcatraz Island, our data organizing skills also start out humble


One of the exciting benefits of Alteryx has been real-time collaboration with coworkers.

Before, projects required meeting together, planning steps, implementing database tables and code, and sending the data to see if it met requirements. Emails ping-ponged with questions and clarifications.

Alteryx cuts out the ping-pong. Coworkers immediately see what is being done with the data and analytics without needing code explained. Research questions are asked and answered while working together in collaboratively.

Alteryx is making work a whole lot more fun!

Four reasons I switched over 90% of my work from Python scripting to Alteryx

DucksInARow 400px

Alteryx helps you get your data ducks in a row.

In the middle of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak during 2015, I found myself getting completely overwhelmed.

Many data processes were needing to be automated, epidemiological analyses needed to be completed, and I needed to remember everything I was doing for writing reports later.

I ended up writing a lot of Python language scripting code, and that code quickly became a headache. I needed to maintain, update, and run the code—and often I was writing so much code I’d forget which project I was working on—while working on GIS and cartography products, among other tasks.

The Anti-Reiteration Formula: Why using dates as timeline graphic headers is such a bad idea


What are the fondest memories of your childhood? Was it going to a circus? A rodeo? The beach? A particular vacation?

Our memories are full of events that stand out from the normal day-to-day chores. And when we recount those events, the dates on which they happened usually doesn’t matter. It’s the event—the experience—that matters most.

It’s the same way with timeline graphics. It’s the events that happen through time that matter more than the dates. Yet, that’s not how most timeline graphics are designed.

Most timeline graphics I’ve seen use the date as a header

The importance of only one thought for your data graphic


“This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” - Neil Armstrong 

On May 25, 1961, President John F Kennedy gave his famous speech that set the goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

It’s amazing what that vision set in motion. NASA focused step by step to put all the pieces in place that would allow a man to go to the moon. They had to overcome many obstacles, such as how to dock two spacecraft traveling hundreds of miles per hour. They had to learn to keep humans safe and healthy in space for days. …

Three habits Snoopy taught me to create a richer life

Who wouldn’t want to win a MegaBucks Lottery with the millions of dollars in prize money? The answer is anybody who knows what happens to those winners.

Stories abound with lottery winners who lose their friends and family, who end up in a worse financial situation than before winning, and who call their winning a curse.

Too often we think of a rich life in terms of money. Luckily, Snoopy taught me at an early age what a richer life means to me, and it has nothing to do with money.

For me, a richer life means having a smile on my face

Why write by using tiny questions

Pressure small

“Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”

The first words ever spoken on the telephone ushered in an impossible idea: the ability to live and work anywhere while still being able to talk with family and coworkers anytime we want.

Just like that first phone call ushered in the communication age, tiny questions usher in your ability to write. If you create articles by asking a tiny question, you can build momentum in creating content.

Tiny questions are questions that can be answered in one to three paragraphs

Tiny questions focus your thinking so you don’t get overwhelmed by coming up with a long response. …

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